Friday 9 December 2016

Global publishing convention hails INM's digital advances

Strategic transformation key in rapidly changing media sector, writes Gavin McLoughlin

Published 19/06/2016 | 02:30

INM has strategically invested in both new writing talent and new technology, which has contributed to its success
INM has strategically invested in both new writing talent and new technology, which has contributed to its success

The digital transformation at Independent News & Media (INM) was the focus at an innovation session at the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers conference this week.

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INM Group Editor-in-Chief Stephen Rae described to the international conference how the group has undergone a period of strategic transformation, transitioning to online whilst building a "platform-neutral" newsroom.

The publisher, which operates four market-leading national newspapers here, including this title, has brought staff together to form one large newsroom, innovating as a team while still working on their individual publications.

The change, Rae said, was necessary in order for Independent.ie to become the largest and fastest-growing news source in Ireland.

"We have come from a position, three to four years ago, where we were very much behind the curve - our competitors were the major players in the digital market and we weren't anywhere near," he added.

The editorial team implemented a combined newsroom - one which had all the INM staff working together on one floor, with individual sections for sports, news, business and production.

"All decisions in the newsroom are now made in the 'central hub', an area where content starts out before it is decided which newspaper it will feature in," Rae said.

"We've also set up a special Innovation Hub on a separate floor, where journalists can come up with ideas we can make happen, one being an exciting new niche app to launch later this year."

Stories can often float between titles, especially between Independent.ie and print publications.

"For example, certain types of content, such as celebrity, lifestyle or crime, is produced in the morning by the online team, before it is reverse-published into our evening newspaper, the Herald - so that's free content for the paper."

INM has strategically invested in both new writing talent and new technology, which has contributed to its success - climbing from No 3 to No 1 in Ireland, with a peak 11 million unique visitors per month on Independent.ie.

Research released by the Institute for Future Media and Journalism at DCU this week revealed that Independent.ie is the most popular news brand for 18-24 year-olds in Ireland. The research was published in conjunction with the Reuters Institute Digital News Report.

The group has put a huge focus on mobile, creating an internal app for editorial use, used to cover the general election in February this year.

"We sent our teams out to 40 different count centres, where reporters were able to input the results directly into this app, and then directly onto our website. We were able to beat all the broadcasters to publishing the live election results."

Stephen Rae said media was in a state of constant change. "Accelerated change will be an everlasting phenomenon for all media in the tech age. That's something we are preparing ourselves for in our group. The media model is evolving to the new environment of the 'Internet of Things'. Innovation and change in general is about getting better at what you do," he said.

Delegates were told how the publisher used the elections to experiment with other forms of coverage, creating podcasts with former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and ex-Fine Gael Minister Nora Owen and former Labour leader Pat Rabbitte for the older demographic, and vox-pop style soundbytes for its younger audience.

INM has also been customising the homepage of Independent.ie and has tried out personalised push notifications.

"We had a very engaged rugby audience, so during the World Cup, we split the home page into three formats which would change to suit the readers," Rae said.

"From our data, we knew which sport they consumed, and sent out different types of push notifications based on this - it led to a huge increase in engagement and the open rates of our targeted push alerts increased by 300pc."

A system of results coverage for Euro 2016 is being successfully trialled on Independent.ie and is the work of one of INM's developers, having been suggested at an annual 'Hack Day', Rae said.

"With input from editorial teams, the back-end system was developed and front end designs were created that displayed teams, tables and an interactive time-line of all the tournament's matches.

"INM is looking to continue to innovate, tell our stories, and make our content valuable once again.

"We would have traditionally seen our old competitors in print, TV and radio as the enemy, but I think we've got to increasingly look at them as allies. And we've got to collaborate at all levels - we can learn broadcast skills from them and they can learn the agility and nimbleness from us," Rae said.

The conference was closed by Colombia's president, Juan Manuel Santos. President Santos spoke of his attempts to negotiate a peace deal after 50 years of civil war with the Farc guerillas.

In a briefing afterwards, Rae said the president congratulated the good work being done by former Labour leader Eamon Gilmore in assisting the peace process in his role as the EU Commission's envoy.

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